I’ll admit it: Revision used to terrify me. When I was a new writer, I mistook revision for something that interfered with the creative process, rather than the only way you get what you want from it. I wasn’t alone in that thinking. In my teaching now, I see young writers continue to butt their heads against the idea of revision. Either they mistake real revision for something that fits nicely into a sentence like this: “If I just change this one sentence, then it’ll all be fine.” By thinking this way, they fail to take advantage of the opportunity to truly re-envision their stories. Or they think, as I once did, that revision “ruins” the spontaneity of their writing. The general fear of revision is, of course, simply our fear that what we want from our stories cannot be achieved.
How often do we approach revision fearing what we’ll discover about our stories? What if at the moment when we begin revision, we allow ourselves to dwell most significantly and earnestly in the possibilities of our stories? As I’ve come to think of it this way, I’ve found that the moment of revision is in fact the most exciting time. You know much more about what you’re doing by that time. Your characters have already revealed so much of themselves to you. What you bring to that knowledge, then, is the clear-eyed reader, the one who asks the hard questions of each moment and line of dialogue, the one who turns over each gesture looking to see what is unearthed, the one who both embraces the failure of a scene and wards it off by relentless questioning and re-envisioning. The way that we serve our stories best in revision is in that spirit of expectation, wonder, and, yes, enough fear and trembling to invite the unexpected.